Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, an old Dallas Cowboys linebacker, once said Terry Bradshaw “couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him a ‘c’ and an ‘a’".
Given his asinine take on Mike Tomlin, I’m not sure Bradshaw could pull it off even if you threw in the ‘t.’
What a bumbling fool. But before we get to the silliest football conversation you will ever hear — thank you, FS1 — let’s put one of Bradshaw’s remarks to the test in the wake of Tomlin’s Steelers clinching their second AFC North Division title in the past three years.
“He’s really a great cheerleader guy,” Bradshaw said, in mock praise, on the show “Speak For Yourself.” “I don’t know what he does.”
OK, we’ll spell it out for you, Terry.
First and foremost, Tomlin W-I-N-S.
He helps devise G-A-M-E P-L-A-N-S.
He lets assistants D-O T-H-E-I-R J-O-B-S, which is always the mark of a secure L-E-A-D-E-R.
He has a direct hand in personnel acquisitions (we can learn those words next week, Terry). He M-O-T-I-V-A-T-E-S, for sure, and he E-D-U-C-A-T-E-S.
Player endorsements: Every Friday, for example, a bunch of defensive players visit with Tomlin for a post-practice strategy session. It used to be just the defensive backs. Others soon joined. They sometimes talk for more than an hour, cornerback Ross Cockrell explained after the dramatic win Sunday.
“Since I was 7 and started football, I’ve never been around a coach who talks football like that, little tips, game-planning, strategy, everything,” Cockrell said. “He gives you all the insight you could want. Much more than a ‘cheerleader.’"
“We learn a lot (during the Friday sessions) — what the coaches are thinking, understanding certain calls,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “(Tomlin) knows the game so well. It’s almost like he’s too football-smart. He’s very calm under adverse situations.”
One would expect such sentiment coming from the home team’s locker room, of course. Who’s going to say something bad about their coach? But these weren’t just platitudes. They were passionate endorsements.
“If you watch him, he spends hours upon hours in his room — or as he calls it, the hole — and he’s a real student of the game,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Come spend a week with him. See how it goes down. Then you make an opinion about him. But to say (what Bradshaw said) is ludicrous.”
Facts favor Tomlin: Or just look at the facts. Tomlin in 10 years has won 102 games. And two AFC championships. And a Super Bowl. And as we sit here today, only two other teams — Green Bay Packers pending — have made the playoffs three consecutive years (New England, Seattle).
One time in Tomlin’s 159 regular-season starts have the Steelers gone into a game eliminated from playoff contention (Week 17, 2012). One time. He presided over a total rebuild of a decrepit defense and did not suffer a losing year. Twice he made the playoffs when his quarterback missed a full quarter of the season.
This year, Tomlin was without maybe the best player in the league (Le’Veon Bell) for three games, lost his two best defensive linemen, was 4-5 and still won the division as the Steelers ride a six-game winning streak — their longest in 12 years — into the playoffs. The three-year playoff streak is the franchise’s longest since a six-year run in the early 1990s.
Is he a “great” coach? Depends on your definition of great. Is there a great coach in the league right now besides Bill Belichick? I just know Tomlin’s pretty damn good by any sane measurement.
Yet we have Bradshaw and Jason Whitlock insinuating that he is merely a cheerleading Rooney puppet.
Bradshaw makes no sense: And I say this knowing full well that Bradshaw often makes no sense. In the recent documentary on Chuck Noll, for example, he said, “I don’t know why (Noll) drafted me. I never was his kind of guy. I’m cows and horses and dogs. He was wine and Russian literature and stuff I have no clue.”
Right, so a coach is supposed to draft a player based on common interests. Good. That was about the level of insight displayed Friday on the FS1 panel. After Bradshaw said he doesn’t think Tomlin is a great coach “at all,” biting off the “at all,” Cris Carter asked Bradshaw if he thought Bill Cowher was a great coach.
“Yeah … Bill was,” Bradshaw said, thus giving every card-carrying Cowher-ite license to rip just a little more on Tomlin. “I have more identity with Cowher than I do Tomlin. His teams were tough. Tomlin came in from Minnesota, and I didn’t know anything about him, so maybe it’s unfair for me to make the comparison.”
Up stepped Whitlock: “I happen to agree with Terry.”
Some criticisms of Tomlin are legit: Are there legit criticisms of Tomlin? Of course. He loses to bad teams too often. Some of his key draft picks in combination with general manager Kevin Colbert have flopped. His clock management is often questionable (can you imagine the outcry if the Steelers had run out of time Sunday?), and one playoff win in five years isn’t enough.
But dry stretches aren’t abnormal. Cowher missed the playoffs three years in a row. Noll made the playoffs once in his final seven years. Other coaches tied long term to great quarterbacks (Mike McCarthy with Aaron Rodgers, Sean Payton with Drew Brees, Tony Dungy with Peyton Manning, to name three) have maxed out at one Super Bowl victory.
Bottom line, Tomlin wins: In a bottom-line league, Tomlin wins. His team is resilient. It has fought back from major adversity this season and from large deficits the past two weeks.
“He has his fingerprints all over this team,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “Those comments were just reckless. They were stupid and didn’t need to be said. I hope this win reminds everybody how good of a coach we have.”
I would like to think so, too. But we both know better.